The old commercial declared “let your fingers do the walking” to tout the benefits of that era’s newest communication methods. Now it’s closer to “let your fingers do the talking” as we text, tweet, and post incessantly.
At least, some of us do. Though a lot of folks have smartphones or tablet computers, many others, for either technological or financial reasons, don’t. A good 15 percent of my congregation doesn’t even use email. When a church or other organization relies heavily on electronic communication, two classes emerge: those who know what’s going on and those who are left in the dark. Those in the second class unfortunately feel no one cared to fill them in.
Worse, each group is tempted to make judgments about the other. The electronics-avoiders tut-tut over the loss of “real” communication among those who depend on digitized speech, while the thoroughly up-to-date shake their heads at the ignorance and pig-headedness of the technophobes.
A healthy, diverse community needs to include both extremes as well as those of us who stand on the middle ground, fascinated but not terribly competent.
As the body of Christ at this transitional period in history, we must use multiple modes of communication: For those who only communicate via Facebook, we have to be there. For those who communicate by text, it’s an option we need to pursue. For those who read only snail mail, we have to write, use proper grammar, punctuation, and spelling. For those who still use that thing attached to the wall by a cord, it’s a viable instrument. All this takes time and patience, but it is necessary. Our ultimate goal is not just efficient communication; it’s communicating for the purpose of doing Christ’s work.
Last spring we planted a tomato and herb gar- den on the church’s property. An older member who doesn’t even email conceived the idea and tilled the ground. Two families who only communicate by iPhone and Facebook did the planting and constructed a Facebook page to journal the project and recruit interest. The harvest was a success.
Then last Friday, the same non-technical guy garnered the donation of 415 additional pounds of tomatoes from a local farm to augment our overall project: to make lots of tomato sauce for families in need. Sauce-making leadership passed to a woman who’s more comfortable with email than other modes. A suitable sauce recipe, safe-food-handling instructions, and extra equipment were secured by a busy person with an iPhone who reached out to a much larger community. A crew was gathered via the tomato project Facebook page, telephone, email, and even by something called face-to-face conversation.
There was, however, one unifying factor: everybody wanted to get their hands dirty – in a real-world, tactile, pre-digital way – and do something to feed the hungry. The result: hard work, fun, community building, and a lot of people fed.
The swirling array of new media mesmerizes those of us who see its potential and find it fun. However, we need to keep daily perspective: it can have a polarizing effect if not used judiciously. It’s still only one tool among many.
The Rev. Liz Frohrip is Associate in Ministry at Salem Lutheran Church in Bridgeport, CT.